"THE POWER OF ONE"
Later that evening; Olivia, Cole, the two visitors from New Orleans and the Halliwells appeared at the McNeills' house for the dinner party hosted by Jack and Gweneth McNeill. No sooner had the guests arrived, they - along with the McNeills - gathered inside the large drawing room and waited for the family manservant to announce dinner.
"I just read the latest copy of THE LUNAR VOICE," Barbara said to Piper. The blond-haired witch, who was married to Olivia's older brother, had joined the redhead, Cecile and Piper near the fireplace. "And I saw an ad placed by a P. Halliwell . . . for the position of nanny. Was that . . . Did you place that ad? Is that the reason why Paige was asking me about local Wiccan newspapers?"
Piper sighed. "Yeah. I . . . I'm trying to find a permanent nanny for Wyatt."
Olivia immediately came to Piper's defense. "Barbara!"
Her sister-in-law assumed an innocent and confused expression. "What? I simply asking Piper about that ad in THE LUNAR VOICE."
"Yeah, and with all the subtlety of a Gestapo interrogator. Is there a problem?"
Barbara let out a gust of breath. "No, there isn't a problem. I'm simply curious, that's all. I mean . . . this is Wyatt we're talking about. He's only nine months old and already he's had more supernatural activity surrounding him than all of us in a period of three years. And I'm just . . . surprised . . . well, you know what I mean!"
"I understand," Piper replied. "That's why Olivia had suggested that I place the ad in 'certain' newspapers and shops in the city."
"Where's Wyatt right now?"
Olivia pointed to where Paige, Phoebe and her grandmother stood. "Over there, in Gran's arms." She said to the other women, "I had also asked Cole's uncle - Marbus - if he knew of anyone who could baby sit Wyatt."
"What about Leo?" Barbara asked.
Piper's face immediately became a cold mask. "What about him?"
"Um . . ." Barbara began. But a quick jab in the side by Olivia cut her short, leaving her to finish lamely, "Never mind. What about that Elf Nanny?"
Piper continued, "Oh, she, uh . . . vowed never to step foot inside the manor, after those two warlocks tried to attack Wyatt. She likes a quiet household. So, I need a new nanny, fast. Like I had told Olivia, I'm having trouble with P3 at the moment. And splitting my time between Wyatt and the club - along with dealing with demons . . . and Leo's absence . . ." The Charmed One sighed. "I don't know. It seems like everything is falling apart."
"In other words, this whole mess started, because Leo decided that being an Elder was a lot more important than his family." The other women stared at Cecile, who had broken her silence. She stared back. "What?"
Frowning, Olivia commented, "Is it just me, or are you sounding a little bitter right now?"
"I'm not being bitter," Cecile protested. "Just telling the truth. If Leo had really loved Piper . . . or if she was that important to him, he would have never become an Elder."
Piper's eyes cast downward. "I think you might be right," she muttered.
Triumph gleamed in Cecile's dark eyes. "See? You really can't trust a man's love. First, they'll move heaven and earth to possess us. Then sooner or later, they end up taking us for granted. We become like background noise to them." The others continued to stare at her. "Well, am I wrong?" Cecile let out a gust of breath, turned on her heels and walked away.
"Wow," Barbara murmured. "What's wrong with her? You don't think that she and Andre are having troubles, do you?"
A new voice added, "She's frustrated. Cecile, I mean." Olivia and the other two women found Phoebe standing behind them. "I could sense Cecile's frustration." Annoyed, Olivia bit back a retort.
Piper, on the other hand, made her displeasure known. "Phoebe! Do you mind?"
Looking slightly affronted, Phoebe protested, "What? Cecile is obviously frustrated about something! Probably Andre."
Her older sister heaved a sigh. "We all know that you're now an empath, Pheebs. But could you please put a sock in it?"
"I can't help sensing everyone's emotions!" Phoebe retorted. "I don't know how to control this new power. At least not yet."
Olivia tartly added, "But I'm sure that you can control that tongue of yours. Must you broadcast everyone's feelings to the world, every time you sense them?"
A deep silence fell between the four women. Phoebe's face turned pink. "Excuse me," she said in a stiff voice, before walking away.
Feeling slightly remorseful, Olivia apologized to Piper. "Sorry about that. I guess I had lost my temper."
"I'm not," Piper grumbled. "That new power of hers has been driving us crazy. Just over a week ago, Paige had lost her temper and shoved an apple into Phoebe's mouth."
The image of Phoebe's mouth plugged by an apple nearly sent Olivia into a spate of giggles. Nearly. Instead, she kept her mirth to herself and said, "Oh well. At least you can't deny that Phoebe is right about Cecile. She is frustrated."
"Do you think it has to do with Andre?"
Olivia responded silently with a slight shrug.
The following morning, Andre and Olivia met the latter's grandmother outside of an antiquity shop on Union Square. "There you are," the elderly woman declared. She glanced at her watch. "You're late."
"Only by fifteen minutes," Olivia muttered. She retrieved a key from her purse and used it to unlock the shop's front door. "Here we go. Welcome to . . ." Her face formed a slight frown. "Well, I haven't renamed it, yet." She switched on the lights.
Andre took one sweeping glance around the shop's interior and whistled.
"My sentiments exactly," old Mrs. McNeill added. "Goddess! I've never seen so many . . . How much is all of this stuff worth, Livy?"
With a sigh, Olivia answered wearily, "You really don't want to know. Fortunately, Alexis Kostopulos wanted to get rid of the shop so badly that I managed to buy it at a cheaper price."
"Why?" Andre asked.
"Well, his father had been murdered by someone looking for a medallion that used to be in this shop. Didn't Cole tell you about the Erebor medallions, and the attack on the Whitelighter Realm?"
The houngan nodded. "Oh yeah." His eyes fell upon a small, sandalwood box with Druidic symbols carved on the sides. "So, where are the . . . um other pieces that you were talking about?" He picked up the box. "Besides this?"
Olivia replied, "The rest of the items are scattered throughout the shop. Mixed with the other items. Hopefully, you and Gran will be able to identify and separate them from the regular items. While I'm at work."
"Hmmm." Mrs. McNeill swept a finger across one of the glass casings. "This looks like a job that might take a week or two."
Andre added, "That's no problem for me. Besides . . ." he paused, wondering if he should allow the two women in his confidence.
"Besides what?" Olivia asked.
The houngan sighed. "This trip should give me plenty of time to find . . . a ring. To buy."
"A ring?" Mrs. McNeill frowned. "What for?"
After a brief hesitation, Andre decided to confess. "Well, I plan to ask Cecile to marry me. I'm looking for an engagement ring."
The two women reacted with delight. "Oh my God!" Olivia cried. "I can't believe it! Finally! After all these years!"
"I'm so happy for you," Mrs. McNeill added. Then she frowned. "But . . . you mean to say you couldn't find a ring in New Orleans?"
Andre sighed. "Yeah, I did look around for one. But I couldn't find one that satisfied me. You know, the right one. Maybe I'll find one, while I'm here in San Francisco."
Olivia's eyes grew wide with excitement. "Wow! An engagement! I can't wait for Cecile to find out. Maybe this will get her out of that bad mood of hers."
A smile illuminated Mrs. McNeill's lined face. "Oh, I'm sure that it will"
Cole and Cecile silently stood side-by-side inside the elevator, as it conveyed them to the spacious boardroom of McNeill Enterprises. The half-daemon tried to think of something to say. He even considered discussing the upcoming business conference, but they had covered that topic more than adequately, in the past few days.
A quick glance at Cecile's forlorn expression told him that she was not in the mood to talk. Come to think of it, the Vodoun priestess has been in a bleak mood since her arrival, yesterday. Unable to deal with the silent tension any longer, he finally murmured, "Penny for your thoughts."
"Huh?" Cecile stared at the half-daemon with wide eyes.
Cole continued, "You seemed to be deep in thought. Is there something on your mind? The upcoming meeting?"
Cecile shook her head. "No. I'm fine. I . . ." She sighed. Long and hard. "Have you ever thought that your life might be in a rut, sometimes? That no matter how much you try, everything stays the same?"
Wondering what brought on this rant, Cole stared at her. "Uh . . . well, considering the changes I've been through during the past three years . . . not really."
Another sigh left Cecile's mouth. "What about those years before that? Before you first met Phoebe? I mean . . . didn't you feel then that your life was in a rut?"
"What are you getting at?"
"I . . ." The elevator stopped. The doors slid open and Cecile walked out before she could form a coherent answer.
The pair found themselves greeted by a well-dressed young executive. "Ms. Dubois? Mr. Turner? Hello, my name is Milo Kendrick. I'm Mr. McNeill's assistant. Please follow me." He led Cole and Cecile into an expensively furnished boardroom, where Harry and Jack McNeill awaited them. Along with other members of the Board. As the door closed behind them, Cole realized that Cecile's surprising revelation would have to wait for another time.
A young man in his late twenties burst into Daley's herbal shop off Telegraph Road, later that morning. The Vodoun sorceress recognized the newcomer, and rang up her customer's purchases. No sooner had the latter left; she led the younger man to the stockroom in the back.
"Did you and Jeffrey find out anything about these . . . Charmed Ones?" Daley asked.
The young man, a narrow-faced novice bokor with rich brown skin and handsome features named Marc Beaudine, breathlessly sat down on a nearby stool. He removed a small notebook from his jacket pocket. "Yeah. They're practically famous in the local Wiccan community."
"That's nice," Daley commented tartly. "The question is . . . why are they famous?"
Marc removed a few sheets of folded paper from his jacket and handed them to Daley. "I got that from the Internet. There's this tale, or legend or whatever about these three sisters from a long line of witches, who are destined to become the world's most powerful witches. Called the Charmed Ones. They were destined to kill the leader of some demonic faction. Someone called the Source."
Daley read the sheet of paper, which had been printed from an Internet website on Wiccan mythology. "I think I had heard about this Source. From a warlock I used to know. Too bad he's dead."
"Well, I know this other warlock," Marc added. "And he told me and Jeffrey that this Source is dead. He had been killed nearly two years ago. By these witches called the Charmed Ones. Wilson - he's the warlock I had spoken with - told me a lot about them."
"So, who are they? The Charmed Ones?"
Marc continued, "Like I said, three sisters who happened to be witches. They're believed to be the most powerful witches ever."
A frown appeared on Daley's face. "What do you mean by . . . believed? Aren't they the most powerful Wiccan witches?"
"Well . . . not really. According to Wilson, they would have been, if it wasn't for the Aingeal Staff Bearer."
"Now, I'm confused. The who?"
Sighing, Marc added, "A witch from some Scottish family, who happens to be the bearer of a powerful wizard's staff. The present bearer is a descendant of this wizard. But no one knows his or her identity. But the Aingeal Staff Bearer is just as powerful as the Charmed Ones. And these sisters are only that strong when they come together as the Power of Three."
Daley took a deep breath. "And what is the name of this family of witches?"
"Halliwell," Marc replied. "Right now, the family's name is Halliwell."
"That name sounds familiar."
A sly smile curved Marc's lips. "It should. Phoebe Halliwell. Of the 'DEAR PHOEBE' column of the BAY-MIRROR."
Daley felt flabbergasted. "Are you kidding me?" The idea of a local celebrity being a powerful witch would have never occurred to her. "Wait a minute. She's one of the Charmed Ones?"
"Yep! And so is the owner of that nightclub on Fremont. You know . . . P3? Her name is Piper Halliwell. There's a third sister, but Wilson didn't get her name. As for Piper, she's the mother of this powerful child you had told me about. Do you remember that day, over eight months ago, when we weren't able to perform any magic?"
Nodding, Daley replied, "Yeah. I never did find out what happened that day."
Marc leaned forward, his brown eyes glittering with intensity. "That was the day Piper Halliwell gave birth to her son. His father is believed to be a whitelighter."
"Whitelighters. They're daemons. Only they're on the side of good. Guardian angels or something like that."
Daley said, "So, what you're saying is this child is the son of an extremely powerful witch and a daemon."
Marc continued, "And he's also an extremely powerful little baby. He has great magical powers. Stronger than his mother, his aunts, his daddy and everyone else. Other daemons and warlocks have been trying to get their hands on his powers for months."
The idea of possessing the Halliwell child's magic struck Daley as very appealing. With such power, she could destroy the leadership of the local Vodoun community. Or any other magical community that opposed her. And protect her little side business, so that it could develop into a multi-billion dollar business. If only she could get her hands on the child.
"By the way," Marc added, "I've discovered something interesting about the Halliwell baby." He handed Daley a newspaper. "That's one of the local Wiccan papers. Called THE LUNAR VOICE. Turn to page eight."
Daley turned to the page as instructed. It was filled with employment ads and notices. "What am I looking for?" she asked.
"The ad near the bottom of the page. In the column, second from the left."
Sure enough, Daley founded what she was looking for. It was an ad seeking a nanny for a nine month-old baby. It featured a telephone and a person of contact - namely P. Halliwell. The sorceress smiled. This sounded promising. Very promising, indeed.
END OF PART II